It was a rainy Sunday — Mother’s Day — and a few people came over to the car as I pulled up outside the soup kitchen. I was deciding against holding our sidewalk prayer/communion as a fellow said, “Pastor Mair, it’s just too wet.”

Sue was there too, and I was wondering if she was disappointed. All week, she had been sharing her excitement about “going away” this weekend with a friend from away. He was supposed to come get her and take her out for Mother’s Day. She had told me she had a 10-year-old daughter who had been adopted. Very little happens on the street as planned, so I had thought this might not actually take place.

I became focused on how very soaked she was. Her sweat shirt was heavy and darkened with rain; her hair was dripping wet. I realized I had a raincoat her size in the trunk of my car. I rummaged through the trunk to show her the coat.

She didn’t seem interested, so I took the new coat out of its package as she began to tell me that what she needed was a new sweat shirt. I bypassed this request and continued to show her the advantages of the raincoat in my hands. She explained she had no room for the coat in her locker. I thought to myself, “What is she talking about? Put it on, it’s pouring.”

As I showed her how compact it was when folded, she finally said with exasperation, “I don’t want that, forget it, I don’t want anything.” That got my attention. The battle ended.

Then someone came up to me asking about something else, and Sue quickly moved away. What was that all about, I thought, as I watched her walk down the sidewalk.

I caught up with her minutes later, and said, “Sue, I’m sorry about that — I think I felt so badly about you being so wet that I wanted to change it and stopped listening to you.”

She stared at me for a moment and then gave me a smile, saying, “You know, what I really need is a comforter for my new place.”

What are we listening to another for? What is our purpose? To hear what we want to hear, to affirm our beliefs, to confirm our identity, to eventually get what we want.

Yes, sometimes all of the above, but frequently the need is just that — to get what we want. We “do-gooders” have to be particularly awake, I believe. We look like we are always trying to help others when a great deal of our actions and our listening is about fitting others into a plan we already are hatching. Sue really needed to be in that raincoat, according to me. I don’t know if she would have felt any better (obviously not), but I would have. This is different than “being with” another.

Sacred listening, one way to be with another, a rich event for both people, is when we are acting straight out of curiosity and openness. A deepening of understanding can then occur. It is a great outward-bound adventure, and we don’t have any idea where it will take us. There is no agenda. The raincoat, so to speak, can be rejected, and it doesn’t matter.

I guess all of this gets back to the bottom line again. Just who do we feel is in charge? What is our ultimate game plan? Is there a divine plan that we can lean into each moment, or are we controlling the show? As the 12-step programs ask, can we allow our “higher power” to steer us?

We can talk about this surrender, but it is very difficult to live it throughout our normal day and work. Our ego will constantly fight to seek our own satisfaction and happiness above all. Deep listening is one way of remembering the bigger picture. Listening with no agenda expands our consciousness. We surrender the satisfaction of our own need to be part of a wider circle, and it seems this brings us closer to the widest consciousness or what the mystics have called the emptiness of All.

Listening in this way can lead to God.

Try it then — no agenda, just curiosity and openness, with the next person who walks up to you. And be gentle with yourself if you forget what you’re doing and find yourself squeezing that person into a raincoat.

 

The Rev. Mair Honan is an ordained minister and co-founder of Grace Street Ministry.